[dropcap]C[/dropcap]onsecutive draws or two points from six, whichever way you look at it, would be considered faltering form in almost any title race.
Manchester City for example, have seen their league crown slip further with those exact results of late. Across the channel in France however, Olympique Lyonnais can be thoroughly pleased with the same record.
Lyon, chasing a first Ligue 1 Championship since the end of their record-breaking seven-year domination in 2008, have seen things contract at the top of the table but maintain a two-point gap over rivals Olympique de Marseille and mega-rich holders Paris Saint-Germain.
The reason coach Hubert Fournier can remain satisfied with progress is that many were expecting his side’s challenge to have derailed by now.
The Rhone-Alpes based outfit’s return to the summit of their domestic game has in no small part been attributed to the sensational form of Alexandre Lacazette.
The in-demand forward has a goal for every one of his 22 league appearances this term and has caught the attention of Europe’s big clubs while lighting up Ligue 1.
A recent hamstring injury to the 23-year-old was expected to see Lyon falter as they appeared heavily reliant on his ability to find the net. Lacazette has contributed 46 per cent of OL’s league goals this term with gifted young midfielder Nabil Fekir a distant second on eight strikes.
In one sense though, the injury arrived at the right time, with the two most recent fixtures requiring teamwork and a bit of bottle rather than incision. Indeed, there appears much more to Fournier’s team than his diminutive star striker.
Lyon also boast the best defensive record in the league and a deserved point was gained from a clean sheet kept at fifth-placed Monaco.
Champions PSG were then visitors to the Stade de Gerland and could only breach the youthful home ranks thanks to a Zlatan Ibrahimović penalty; goalkeeper Anthony Lopes impressed as the big-spenders were otherwise kept at bay.
The absence of Lacazette for two crucial fixtures has been successfully negotiated but it simultaneously highlighted the togetherness behind Les Gones’ return to the top of the table and the fearlessness of their well-drilled young players.
The likes of the 20-year-old Fekir, Samuel Umtiti (21), Corentin Tolisso (20) and Jordan Ferri (22) have been ever-present under their new boss this term and demonstrated their ability to handle the pressure of a title race over a tricky looking last fortnight.
A returning Lacazette will be welcomed back into the fold for the next fixture, a trip to struggling Lorient.
With the country’s top scorer back in their ranks, their lead at the top intact and a seemingly unwavering self-belief, Lyon can now push on into the latter stages of the season with every confidence of a first Ligue 1 crown in seven years.
Laurent Blanc’s PSG have also been in excellent form but will be under pressure to close the gap. A star studded squad sees them firmly labelled as favorites but they also have the distraction of an imminent double-header against José Mourinho’s Chelsea in the Champions League.
Marseille meanwhile have a derby with Saint-Étienne up next and will be looking to remain in the mix until they host Lyon on March 14, in what promises to be a much-closer title race than many expected before the campaign started.
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